There are currently two main types of synthetic (manmade) implant available for breast augmentation surgery: saline and silicone.
All implants share the same basic design (just the filling is different) although they come in a variety of different shapes, forms and sizes. It’s possible to also have an implant made of natural body tissue, but these are rarely used for cosmetic reasons and are more common in reconstructive surgery after treatment for breast cancer.
Financially and mentally speaking, it’s crucially important to note that breast implants do not last forever. It’s highly likely that over your lifetime you will need to replace them at least once, and that’s even if you don’t experience any complications or issues. All types of implant can develop a tear or a hole, known as a rupture, which means that the contents will leak into your body. Ruptures can be caused by accidents involving a blow to your chest, or simply through natural aging. Therefore, when you make the decision to have cosmetic surgery on your breasts, you need to realise that you are committing yourself to multiple additional operations over the course of your lifetime.
Saline implants are currently the most popular choice, although they don’t feel quite as soft as their silicone cousins. This implant has an elastomer silicone shell filled with sterile saline solution (saltwater).
Silicone implants are elastomer silicone shells filled with a viscous silicone gel and have historically been associated with rupture and leakage, causing pain and immune system diseases. The French company Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP) in particular was at the centre of a health scandal in 2010-11 after the French medical safety agency recalled its stock, having found that PIP implants contained unapproved substances.
Recent studies are now showing that other silicone implants do not increase the risk of immune system issues but you will still be required to attend regular MRI examinations to check for symptomless ruptures.
Alternative composite implants have featured fillers including soybean oil or polypropylene string. These are still largely only available for women willing to undergo clinical trials and are not yet fully approved worldwide, for example, soybean implants were taken off the market in the UK just four years after their introduction, although they’re still being tested in the US.
All implants come in two shapes – round and teardrop. Teardrop implants are exactly the shape that they sound, so if you want to achieve fullness in your lower breast (a slightly more natural look), then this would be the shape to choose. However, with public tastes changing as plastic surgery becomes more prevalent, many women tent to opt for round implants, which achieve greater fullness in the upper part of the breast and an enhanced cleavage.
The positioning of the implant is also key to the success of the surgery and the overall look and feel of your breasts. The implant can be placed either in front of or behind the pectoral muscle. If placed in front of the muscle and covered only by breast tissue, then there’s a clearly noticeable difference between saline and silicone implants, with the silicone feeling softer and more natural. However, if the implants are placed behind the muscle (a more involved and complicated procedure), it’s impossible to tell the difference between the two types. This is only really an issue for very slim women with thinner skin and little in the way of natural breast and muscle tissue – in this case surgeons would often suggest the use of silicone implants.
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